The Wayne County Historical Society is the repository for the county’s history but it has quite a history of its own. The brick building that is home to the society has been standing at 810 Main Street in Honesdale since 1860 when it was constructed by Rodney Tillou and Charles Ball for use as the office of the Delaware & Hudson Canal Company. The historic building has witnessed many changes to itself and the society as well as the Borough of Honesdale.
As early as 1902 a local newspaper printed an article stating the need for a historical society in Wayne County and cited the example of the success of the recently organized Susquehanna County Historical Society. Subsequent articles in The Wayne Independent echoed this plea on the grounds that many valuable papers and information were being lost due to the lack of an authorized organization to receive and preserve valuable data. On May 26, 1917 a meeting of interested parties was held at City Hall to take the necessary steps to establish a historical society. A committee of five people was appointed to nominate officers and submit a code of rules.
On June 7, 1917 the Wayne County Historical Society met in the library of the Honesdale High School and the following officers were elected: Alvin R. Pennell, president; R.T. Davies, first vice-president; Mrs. Andrew Thompson, second vice-president; George P. Ross, secretary; A. C. Lindsay, treasurer; Janet Pohles, librarian. Frank P. Woodward was the first enrolled member to pay his dues and was later elected historian of the society. Regular monthly meetings were held until June of 1918 but then the society remained dormant for four years. A possible reason for the hiatus may have been World War I.
The society met again on June 23, 1922 and after a successful membership drive they added many new members and interest in the organization grew. On October 16, 1922 an application was made to the Court of Common Pleas of Wayne County and on October 20 the charter was granted to and accepted by the society. Annual dues were fifty cents and a life membership was five dollars. The next order of business was to find a suitable home for the fledgling organization.
In March of 1924 the society’s Executive Committee announced that a lease had been obtained for the rental of a room in the Delaware & Hudson Canal Company building for one dollar per year. That room is now the multi-purpose room of the museum. What is now the Reception area and Museum Shop was the offices of the Hudson Coal Company, later the City Coal Company. A deed dated January 17, 1934 transferred ownership of the building to the Wayne County Historical Society for the sum of $1500. This deed stipulated that the coal company reserved the right to continue to use their rooms on the south side of the building for as long as they so desire. Included in the transfer of property was the large chunk of anthracite coal weighing approximately seven and a half tons taken from the Marvin Colliery, a mine owned by the Hudson Coal Company in Lackawanna County.
Page 2 of 2 - In 1941 the society purchased property on Park Street for the sum of one dollar from Melvin and Winifred Kennedy of Waymart to construct a building to house the replica of the Stourbridge Lion and a gravity railroad passenger car. In 1968 Harold and Grace Finch deeded the property in Texas Township at which Lock 36 of the Delaware & Hudson Canal was located. The society continued to grow, both in membership as well as the number of items in their collection. In 1978 the coal company relinquished their right to use their allotted space and two rooms, one on ground level and one below, were added to the rear of the building. The cost of the addition, known as the Menner-Fuller Wing, was $30,000 which was defrayed in part by a generous donation from Mary Menner and Mary Fuller Menner. In time, the room on the ground level became the Research Library thanks to the dedicated effort of Richard Eldred, who became Wayne County Historian in 1999 after the death of Dr. Vernon Leslie in 1994.
The next major change happened in 1981 when the Jason Torrey Land Office was moved from Park Street to be re-located next to the Museum. The historical building was given to the society by the Wayne Memorial Hospital Association because it had to be moved to allow for the expansion of the hospital. In 1993 an addition was added to the south side of the building to house the replica of the Stourbridge Lion and gravity railroad passenger car and provide a better venue to display these important artifacts of the county’s history. Also in 1993 Sally Talaga was hired as Executive Director and the staff consisted of Doris Cook and Gloria McCullough.
In 1996 the Marjorie Smith Glass Hallway was constructed connecting the Jason Torrey Land Office to the Museum to further expand the available exhibit space and add another area of interest to the tour of the Museum. After a lengthy Capital Fund-raising Campaign the large addition on the rear of the Museum was completed in 2008 with a Grand Opening Exhibit in May. This major expansion now includes a small elevator and a ramp that allows for easy access to all of the exhibits in the building. It not only measurably increased the exhibit space but has added considerably more climate controlled storage space and a small kitchen. The latest continuing project is the restoration of the c.1820 farmhouse and property at Lock 31 in Palmyra Township.
Currently the dedicated Board of Trustees, headed by President Elaine Herzog, includes: Margy Coccodrilli, Thomas Colbert, Carol Dunn, Juan Espino, Lee Garing, Lars Hanson, Dorothy Kieff, Ann Kovatch, Lewis Lee, Linda Lee, Jean Meagher, Peggy Murphy, Ann O’Hara, Jorge Perez, Judith Poltanis and Tracy Schwarz. They continue to work to fulfill their mission statement to preserve, protect and increase awareness of the history of Wayne County. At present the staff consists of Interim Director Franziska Zuercher; Research Librarian Gloria McCullough; Museum Shop Manager Kay Stephenson and Receptionist Jane Brooks. The Society will hold a membership drive in July. For more information please go to www.waynehistorypa.org.